The re­turn of Mid­dle­dorp

Kick Off - - Feature -

Fol­low­ing the fir­ing of Gio­vanni Soli­nas, Kaizer Chiefs wasted lit­tle time in ap­point­ing his re­place­ment Ernst Mid­den­dorp, a man who was never a fan-favourite dur­ing his first stint with Amakhosi just over a decade ago. In as much as the Ger­man is ex­pected to show signs of im­prove­ment at Chiefs, there is no guar­an­tee he will win sil­ver­ware this term at a club bor­der­ing on des­per­a­tion as they bat­tle to re­store their iden­tity and for­mer glory. KICK OFF’s Love­more Moyo in­ves­ti­gates just why the club set­tled for their for­mer Ger­man tac­ti­cian.

Ernst Mid­den­dorp is def­i­nitely not a favourite amongst many fans in South African do­mes­tic foot­ball, but he some­how al­ways finds him­self in line for a job at the blink of an eye when­ever a coach­ing va­cancy opens up in the PSL. Those who have worked with the Ger­man will at­test to how or­gan­ised, dis­ci­plined and pro­fes­sional he is in per­form­ing his du­ties de­spite not al­ways de­liv­er­ing on the cru­cial re­sults col­umn. He is now back for his sec­ond stint at Kaizer Chiefs, hav­ing had three spells with Mar­itzburg United while also guard­ing the dugout at Free State Stars, Bloem­fontein Celtic, Chippa United and Golden Ar­rows since his first ar­rival on the do­mes­tic scene in 2005. Also sand­wiched be­tween his first and lat­est foray with Chiefs were jobs in Ger­many, China and Thai­land, where he had been work­ing as a tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sor at Bangkok United over the last two years. It would ap­pear Mid­den­dorp in­deed has some­thing unique to of­fer, judg­ing by how club bosses al­ways turn to him in times of need re­gard­less of his record. While the ma­jor­ity feel re­sults de­ter­mine what makes a good coach, it seems Amakhosi’s management chose a dif­fer­ent train of thought in hir­ing a coach with a medi­ocre record in the PSL, which ex­plains why his ap­point­ment wasn’t greeted with much en­thu­si­asm. Yet Chiefs man­ager Bobby Mo­taung was quick to stand up for the club’s de­ci­sion to rope in the Ger­man for a sec­ond time. “Any­thing we do, and any­thing we an­nounce, you will find two sides to the story,” Mo­taung said. “There is al­ways a pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive – it all de­pends on which one you want to fol­low and rely on. I pre­fer to fo­cus on the pos­i­tives. We felt we needed a coach with a high pedi­gree and for­tu­nately the coach has the char­ac­ter and per­son­al­ity to take this ship for­ward and back to where it be­longs. As a club we re­spect the fans and these changes have been made to sat­isfy the sup­port­ers. The sup­port­ers have the right to be self­ish. It was a no-brainer to think of Ernst in this sit­u­a­tion in the mid­dle of the sea­son. We didn’t want to com­pro­mise the team and the coach which is why we set­tled for a coach who has knowl­edge of the club. There has to be a con­nec­tion be­tween the coach and the play­ers.” Mo­taung says the club would have faced crit­i­cism re­gard­less of who they brought in as Gio­vanni Soli­nas’ suc­ces­sor. “Even if I brought [Jose] Mour­inho or Sir Alex [Fer­gu­son], some would say he is old and all that,” he said. “There is crit­i­cism ev­ery-

where, so we wel­come all the neg­a­tiv­ity, but the re­sults will show. We are com­fort­able bring­ing Ernst in be­cause we have ex­pe­ri­ence with him. We know his pedi­gree and his work ethic. The coach un­der­stands the South African men­tal­ity. He is back home now and even with is­sues of the past, our sup­port­ers are for­giv­ing be­cause they love the club. The past is gone be­cause 2007 and 2018 is a big gap and sup­port­ers are look­ing for­ward to pos­i­tive en­ergy and re­sults.”

The num­bers

Worth not­ing is what Mid­den­dorp has done in the PSL. Though he has been with six clubs lo­cally, he has only been able to start and fin­ish a sea­son with the same club just twice, do­ing so dur­ing his first year with Amakhosi and then at Mar­itzburg United dur­ing the 2012/13 cam­paign. He fin­ished third with Chiefs and eleventh with the Team of Choice in those two sea­sons. In the 2014/15 cam­paign, he won just four and lost 13 of the 25 games he took charge of at Celtic and Chippa, and was al­ready in a new track­suit at Free State Stars within a month of the next sea­son start­ing. His most pro­duc­tive years in the PSL were in his first spell at Chiefs where he won the 2006 Absa Cup and SAA Supa8, win­ning 31 of the 67 games he was in charge of be­tween Au­gust 2005 and March 2007, with the scep­ti­cal re­ac­tion of the fans upon his re­cent ap­point­ment surely jus­ti­fied based on such num­bers. Yet Mid­den­dorp him­self is un­con­cerned. “I think a sup­porter should be self­ish be­cause he wants re­sults,” the Ger­man said. “I have a clear un­der­stand­ing of the fact that sup­port­ers want re­sults. This is noth­ing new. If the re­sults are com­ing with a cer­tain per­for­mance, then we will be go­ing in the right di­rec­tion and that is what I’m hop­ing for. What I can prom­ise is that I will pre­pare the team to per­form to their max­i­mum. You should never un­der­es­ti­mate any team in this league if you want to be suc­cess­ful. I don’t think it needs to be men­tioned specif­i­cally that points must come. There is no doubt about it and I’m aware of it. The team has been feel­ing the pres­sure of the past weeks when they were not suc­cess­ful, so it shouldn’t be a mat­ter of jump­ing in and ham­mer­ing them. We don’t need to be over­load­ing.” Mid­den­dorp says his vast ex­pe­ri­ence of the lo­cal league puts him in good stead in his sec­ond stint at Na­turena. “Com­ing into the coun­try in 2005 and not know­ing the en­vi­ron­ment at a club like this, you dis­cover some­thing new ev­ery day,” he said. “I now have the back­ground in­for­ma­tion be­cause I never stopped ob­serv­ing the PSL. Ev­ery time I was here, I would go to the sta­dium. The back­ground is im­por­tant. On the other side, I have con­fi­dence and I know what I’m do­ing. In ad­di­tion, you have a squad that hasn’t re­ally shown its po­ten­tial, but I’m aware of what the play­ers can do, so re­turn­ing with back­ground in­for­ma­tion is def­i­nitely an ad­van­tage com­pared to 2005.” Only Itume­leng Khune sur­vives from the Chiefs squad Mid­den­dorp first took charge of, with the Ger­man hav­ing now adopted a team strug­gling for con­sis­tency and drown­ing in medi­ocrity, where reach­ing a cup semi-fi­nal is now wor­thy of be­ing men­tioned as an achieve­ment. A dozen years have passed since Mid­den­dorp’s last spell with the Glamour Boys, mean­ing a num­ber of changes both on and off the field, as the Ger­man high­lights just how cru­cial hav­ing a func­tional tech­ni­cal team will be in ex­e­cut­ing his du­ties as the head coach. “The soc­cer in­dus­try in terms of man­ag­ing a team is dif­fer­ent now to what it was in 2007,” he said. “In the last team I was work­ing with in Bangkok, we had 15 tech­ni­cal team mem­bers with ev­ery­one hav­ing their own re­spon­si­bil­i­ties – this is the nor­mal way these days. From this point, it is very im­por­tant for the club to have tech­ni­cal team mem­bers with pedi­gree. The en­tire tech­ni­cal team needs to be con­nected. These days teams spend a lot of money on, for ex­am­ple, GPS. It is no longer a one-man show and ev­ery­one has to come in and con­trib­ute in­stead of run­ning away. These days we have the GPS that in­forms what de­ci­sions must be made, which is a dif­fer­ent dy­namic to what hap­pened 12 years ago.” Mid­den­dorp will have Shaun Bartlett, who played un­der the Ger­man at Chiefs over a decade ago, as his right-hand man, with the duo fully aware of the tough task at hand in res­ur­rect­ing the club’s ail­ing record.


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